Pot reformers have fallen short of their sign-up target for the first third of their campaign to force a provincial referendum on marijuana enforcement.
Sensible B.C. spokesman Dana Larsen said the campaign had 65,000 signatures as of Oct. 9 – 15,000 less than its aim of 80,000 by the 30-day mark of the 90-day petition drive.
“We’re a little bit behind the target we set,” Larsen said, adding getting canvassers officially registered has proven more onerous than expected.
But he remains confident the campaign can succeed in getting the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible voters in every B.C. district.
That would take 300,000 signatures in total, but Larsen said the aim is for 450,000, or 15 per cent in each riding, to provide a buffer against signatures that are declared invalid.
The campaign aims to pass legislation that would bar police from spending any time or resources enforcing the federal law against possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Its goal is to use that as a starting point to work towards broader cannabis legalization.
In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 60 canvassers have been out in force, drumming up support for the petition.
Former municipal councillor Craig Speirs is leading the charge and isn’t discouraged by the signatures his group has collected so far.
Speirs and his volunteers want to get 5,600 signatures in both local ridings – Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge-Mission – by the early December deadline. They’ve gotten 1,400 so far.
“These things sometimes have to get a life of their own,” said Speirs, claiming the campaign will gain momentum as the deadline draws closer.
Speirs is encouraged by the diversity of people who are signing the petition – young and old, political neophytes and seasoned protestors.
“There are a lot of people who have preconceptions about marijuana,” said Speirs. “This is not about opening things up for everyone. It’s about controlling access like alcohol or tobacco.”
Locally, the campaign has been door-knocking and hitting up community events to collect signatures.
Their “beach head” is the parking lot of A&W Restaurant on 228th Street – a location the anti-HST folk recommended to Speirs.
“It’s where we are going to spend the most time,” said Speirs. “There’s room for people to pull over.”
Defeat in any single district means the petition campaign fails.
Even if it succeeds, a referendum is not automatic – the Legislature could introduce the proposed Sensible Policing Act, but not put it to a vote.
If it was sent to another referendum, it could be non-binding – the HST referendum after a successful Fight HST petition was binding only because Premier Gordon Campbell declared it so.
Fight HST also had more signatures at its 30-day mark – more than 300,000 – and wrapped up with 705,000.
According to Sensible B.C., canvassers have already collected nearly enough signatures in Vancouver districts such as the West End and along False Creek.
Most Interior and Northern districts are also doing well, with about a third of the signatures gathered, and campaigns are running ahead of schedule in Nelson, Kelowna and Kamloops.
Suburban ridings in Metro Vancouver, including Surrey and Coquitlam, have proven more challenging.
So far, Sensible B.C. has 3,000 canvassers registered, up from 1,600 when they launched.
Speirs is taking the challenge in stride. He intends to hold a rally locally and says new canvassers are signing up daily. He notes marijuana arrests and convictions in B.C. costs taxpayers $10.5 million last year.
“This is in people’s best interest even if they don’t use it. It’s a money thing,” he added.
The campaign has until Dec. 5 to collect enough signatures to trigger a referendum.
– With file from Monisha Martins